Street Smart: House churches are transforming neighborhood
In a troubled neighborhood along Van Ness Ave. in Fresno, California, gang activity, street crime, and drug abuse are commonplace.
And it’s along this stretch of roadway, which cuts through the heart of the city, where RCA commissioned pastor Raymond Moore and his wife, Tanya, do the work of ministry as leaders of Fresno House Church.
Moore, who provides leadership for at least four house church groups, takes on all comers in his street-smart ministry that touches a wide range of ethnic, racial, and age groups.“One of the guys who’s a gang member came to me one night and told me someone was trying to kill him,” Ray says. “I asked if I could pray for him, and asked could I lay a hand on him. I put my hand on his shoulder and noticed he was wearing a bullet-proof vest. That’s normal for around here.”
“The people who nobody else wants, they come here,” he says.
Finding his way
Moore, 48, experienced a profound personal transformation more than nine years ago. He was part of the local gang scene, and his drug abuse took a toll on his heart. He was hospitalized and told he was dying.
But there was one person he recalled from the neighborhood who might be able to help. That was Rick Browatske, who was doing ministry in the area and was affiliated with Tulare Community Church (RCA) in Tulare, 45 miles away.
Browatske came to the hospital and prayed for Moore, and although his heart was damaged, Moore rallied and radically changed his life to follow Christ.
“Ray Moore is now one of the most dynamic leaders we have in an area that nobody else would touch,” says Roger Peterson, pastor of church multiplication at Tulare Community.
Peterson and his church plant team have a supervisory role and support the Fresno House Church ministry.
Moore assumed leadership of the house churches four years ago and remains in a mentoring relationship with Browatske.
Taking it to the streets
The Moores host several gatherings a week in their home, which is in the center city. Their largest church group varies between 15 and 25 people. There’s a men’s prayer group meeting that includes a meal. Moore also leads a worship service at an area assisted-living hotel residence.
“We see people several times a week because we’re involved in the things that they’re involved in,” he says, “trying to help them find a house, a job—things like that.”
One member of his house church has struggled with addiction through the last several years. He is now staying clean and sober. “He comes to my house almost every day,” Moore says.
Ray and Tanya are both recovering addicts. “We’re in the middle of all these people who are struggling with drugs. We are not offering ourselves as higher up or anything; we’re all equal.”
Peterson has watched the progress in both ministry and the neighborhood.
“When [Moore] started, there were murders regularly and gunshots almost every night,” Peterson says, noting that now gunshots are rare.
Moore says the Christian community watches out for each other and he and his wife feel safe.
“Now there are less gang-bangers and more Christians,” he says.
Doctors told Moore his damaged heart is only working at 40 percent capacity. But the work of the house churches continues with worship, baptisms, Bible study, prayer, and providing counsel.
“This is what the church is supposed to do in society—change it by its presence,” Peterson says.
Peterson says Moore went through commissioned pastor training and continues to do to coursework through various outlets. He also teaches at a local urban ministry institute.
“He certainly has the gifts of leadership, of helping, and he has this ability to connect with the down-and-outers,” Peterson says. “It’s not just because of his background, although he uses it to make connections. But after that it’s his personality—his complete acceptance for people. That’s a real gift of Christ-like love.”
“It’s God working in each individual life,” says Moore. “We’re involved in the life-changing power of the Lord.”
Pray that God will continue to touch lives through street ministries like Fresno House Church.
Learn more about commissioned pastors at www.rca.org/cp.